Monday, August 3, 2015

Buffalo Sabres fantasy hockey outlook

Leading the way: Evander Kane
Kane ranks as my highest Sabres player in my offseason fantasy rankings (No. 80 overall) and a change of scenery could do wonders for this talented power forward. Since joining the NHL in 2009, only three other active players have totaled at least 100 goals, 100 assists, 350 penalty minutes and 1,200 shots on goal (Corey PerryJames Neal and Eric Staal). Keep in mind Kane has appeared in at least 42 fewer games than any of the other three. If Kane can stay healthy, he could be in line for a big fantasy season.
Undervalued: Tyler Ennis
Despite finishing last season with a minus-19 rating, Ennis still managed to post 20-plus goals and 40-plus points for the second consecutive season. He also closed out the season on a positive note with 13 points and an even rating in his final 17 games. With an improved rating and the fact he should be on the top line alongside Kane and Ryan O'Reilly, Ennis could be a solid fantasy contributor.

Overvalued: 
Ryan O'ReillyDespite finishing last season with a minus-19 rating, Ennis still managed to post 20-plus goals and 40-plus points for the second consecutive season. He also closed out the season on a positive note with 13 points and an even rating in his final 17 games. With an improved rating and the fact he should be on the top line alongside Kane and Ryan O'Reilly, Ennis could be a solid fantasy contributor.
It's not that O'Reilly is a bad player, he's just not the most valuable fantasy player. He won't help you in the penalty minutes or shots on goal categories, and unless the Sabres turn things around immediately, his plus/minus will likely take a hit as well. Most fantasy drafters will assume O'Reilly to at least contribute with a healthy amount of points, but that may even be a stretch. Since 2009, when O'Reilly debuted in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, he has 246 points in 427 games (.58 points/game). Of players that have appeared in at least 300 games since '09, that .58 points/game ranks 124th, behind players like Sam GagnerFrans Nielsen and Stephen Weiss. Don't pay for his name value come draft day.
Deep sleeper: Rasmus Ristolainen
The 20-year-old Finnish defenseman had 20 points in 78 games last season to go along with a minus-32 rating, but there's reason to expect a turnaround. Toward the end of the season Ristolainen was asked to play bigger minutes and he responded by posting four goals and five assists in his final 13 games. He should see an increase in power-play ice time (averaged 2:00/game last season) and should be the most productive defenseman on Buffalo.
Goalie outlook: Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson
Lehner has never appeared in more than 36 games (2013-14) but will likely be asked to start more than 50 in 2015-16. He has a career 2.88 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, but at 23 years old there's plenty of room for improvement. I had Lehner 27th among goalies in my offseason ranks, but he could actually see a boost in save percentage this season as the Sabres ranked last in the NHL in shots against per game last season (35.6). As for Johnson, he could end up getting somewhere around 25 starts this season, and if Lehner falters at any point, he could possess an even larger role.

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